Friday 28 August 2015

Affordable Homes - The 'Journey'

The Autumn Term at County hall kicks off on Tuesday with an Executive Board meeting. The new (well, not so new now) Plaid leadership can settle in for the long winter warmed by the company of new buddies Meryl and Pam, with Mr James still firmly in charge. It will be hoped that talk of demolished barns will fade with the last remnants of summer, along with the dimming memories of that Extraordinary meeting where toxic cultures and failed governance were quietly disposed of via Powerpoint...

Talking of warmth, or hot air, Tuesday's meeting includes a report titled, comfortingly, 'Our Commitment to Affordable Homes 2015-2020' and follows on from an earlier report that among Welsh local authorities, Carmarthenshire Council ranks second from bottom in the delivery of affordable housing units.

The cosy theme continues inside with Cllr Linda Evans (Plaid) inviting us all on a 'Journey' (presumably in the Carmarthenshire Council Robin Reliant) of discovery, and reads more like a manifesto than a policy document, peppered with bullet points, cliches and promises, but little meat.

The Council predicts that around 2000 affordable homes will be needed over the next five years, with the supply over the previous five years averaging around 69 per year. There are currently 7000 on the register for social housing.

The report admits that little is understood with regards to demand for affordable housing in rural areas. Given the largely rural nature of the county this is inexcusable. In addition, the Local Development Plan, along with its Supplementary Guidance on Affordable Housing finally made its tortuous way to adoption last December after several years of development and scrutiny; local rural housing issues must have passed it by.

However, demand for affordable homes are obviously highest in the urban areas, Llanelli in particular, and yet the LDP guidance is that only 10% of homes on new development should be affordable. In contrast, in the rural north for instance where there is less demand and any developments are usually very small, the quota is 30%.

The delivery of affordable homes through the planning system is something of a joke and as the report states, the obligation to provide below market-price homes is only insisted upon "as long as this is financially possible". As previously reported (and also an example in London here) 'viability appraisals' are being used more and more to reduce S106 contributions.

The council themselves hardly set a 'committed' example. Only a couple of weeks ago the council put forward it's own plans appearing to split a small site in two to avoid providing an affordable dwelling. The Stradey development in Llanelli of 350 homes had no affordable housing at all despite local demand; the S106 contribution went to Scarlets Regional Ltd and the stadium.

The current mishmash of methods to deliver affordable housing, rented or owned is not going to deliver the numbers required. The lengthy saga of the Brynmefys Estate, also in Llanelli saw the potential for affordable housing drop from eighty in the council's 'empty homes strategy' in 2005 to a meagre fourteen earlier this year, and the report only devotes one line to the council's own attempt to build council homes - you might remember Kev's 11 bungalows which went massively over budget - which suggests that further attempts in that direction are unlikely.

No aspirational report such as this would be worth its salt without the phrase 'developing innovative and creative ways to deliver more' This typically translates to 'we haven't got a clue at the moment but hopefully someone will come up with something' and it usually infers a trip into outsourcing territory.

In fact it has already been decided to put together a business case with a view to set up an external company, wholly owned by the council, to deliver affordable housing. The council contends that such an organisation could attract funding which the council couldn't. If it was capable of attracting extra funding and investment this suggests it would need to be run at a profit; so not necessarily compatible with local and sometimes sensitive and specialised housing needs, and far from transparent.

Companies are currently expressing their interests in the running of the entire Leisure Department, from swimming pools to the Archives; country parks to libraries. The award process, possibly a trust, will start next February. To make it even less transparent the council have even outsourced the company to sift through the interested parties.
It looks like the Housing Department may well be next in line...

Back briefly to the agenda and despite news of record parking profits, the long awaited 'free parking pilot' which was 'urgently' referred to the Board, after cross-party approval, around four months ago is notable for its continued absence. Maybe next time eh?

I also note that Tuesday's meeting is not being webcast, despite a promise back in June. Along with a raft of other WLGA recommendations, this was supposed to be implemented within three months, ie January 2015. Let's hope its sorted for the next one. Although with the actual decisions being taken in the pre-meeting meetings and post-meeting briefings, the bit in the middle, for public viewing, is essentially cosmetic.


Anonymous said...

Following the article in The Carmarthen Herald this week re: The lack of requirement for
a knowledge of the Welsh language in the 2 advertised positions for senior posts, can anybody say how many of the Executive Council are fluent in Welsh? Perhaps if not they can be described as "ardent Welsh learners" like the Chief Executive!

Anonymous said...

Seriously, is this council fit for service any more? All I read about are the underhanded, incompetent dodgy dealings by people who, quite frankly, seem incapable of running a bath let alone a council.

The amount of matters that are brought into question can only be the tip of the iceberg and it would not surprise me to discover how far and wide the dark lords tentacles spread. Perhaps more digging is required, but the whole toxic culture of this shower that supposedly represent the population of Carmarthenshire needs eliminating.

The more you, and other parties, including the Herald (?) paper can bring the failings and, more importantly, the sheer contempt which they perceive the public with, to the public domain, the better chance there is to remove the wholly inadequate lot of them, starting with mr james QC.